Use employee evaluations to define expectations, feedback and performance

Jan. 21, 2011
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, contributing editor, says performance evaluations help team members to do their best.

Not long ago a friend sent me one of those e-mail messages that detailed an interesting situation. The missive concerned a college professor who had a class full of students who thought “social justice,” or everyone getting the same outcome regardless of contribution, was a good idea.

As the story goes, the professor had never flunked a student in his career as a professor; however, the students were fixed in their beliefs; so he made a deal with the class. He offered to give everyone in the class the same grade on each test; the grade would be the class average for the exam. The students agreed.

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The first exam resulted in the class achieving an average grade of a B. The good students had worked hard and actually did well on the test. The poor students did what they always did — avoided studying, put forth minimum effort and did poorly on the exam. True to his word, the professor assigned everyone the same grade. The good students were irritated, and the poor students were happy to have gotten such a good grade with no effort.

The second exam was given several weeks later. What happened? Well the poor performers did what they always did — put forth little to no effort. The top performing students, mindful of the fact that no matter how hard they studied they would only get the class average grade, decided to not put forth their normal effort. Why bust your tail if you can’t differentiate yourself? This time the class average grade was a D. Classmates became angry and blamed each other for the poor average grade.

The third exam went much the same way, except it got worse. Nobody was putting forth much effort because there was no trust and no way to demonstrate personal achievement. The third exam resulted in an average class grade of an F.

This story reminded me of an organization I’m working with; it has a well-designed employee evaluation program. Its primary current function is to provide a horizontal surface upon which dust can be cultivated.


I asked several people why the performance evaluation system wasn’t being used. The answer was that senior leadership didn’t push it because it was time-consuming. And after all, employees get across-the-board raises based on some formula, so the performance evaluation system didn’t mean anything.

In my view, this is a senior leadership cop-out. It’s an easy way to rationalize not using the evaluation program. Intended or not, it sends a message. The message is that we don’t expect supervisors to develop and empower their team members, nor do we expect individuals to perform to their highest potential. Everyone gets a C.

The result of not taking the time to provide an evaluation and feedback on performance is much the same as the results the professor got from his students. The strong performers are discouraged from putting forth extra effort, and the lower performers are encouraged to continue doing what they’re doing. There’s no incentive to do better. It might, in fact, get worse as the strong performers don’t see a future where they’re appreciated and provided with opportunities for personal or professional growth.

Let’s be clear: The main objective of an employee evaluation program isn’t to justify promotions. The objective should be to provide the information everyone needs to align performance with the organization’s expectations. Expectations should flow through each organizational level with measurable objectives and descriptions of activities for each job description.

When employees perform to expectations consistently, the result might be a promotion, but that isn’t the main objective.

People want to do the best job they can, but they can’t do that without feedback. If your organization has an unused performance evaluation program, dust it off. Senior leaders should provide mid-level and lower-level supervisors with the expectations and training they need to evaluate, provide feedback and coaching, and thereby develop their team members.

If you’re not a senior leader, and the organization doesn’t require the use of performance evaluations, put one into action for your area of responsibility. If your organization doesn’t have an employee performance evaluation program, you can easily find examples on the Web.

Don’t give everyone a C. Remember, the real reason for performance evaluation is to provide your team with the information they need to do their best.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER Inc. Contact him at [email protected] and (321) 773-3356.

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